Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Preview: Dystopian Futures

dystopia |disˈtōpēə|
an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of Utopia.

When it comes to the future, cinema rarely has painted a rosy picture. Quick! Other than Back to the Future Part II, name a movie set in the future where things are bright and sunny? You see, not so easy, huh?

Even when movies show off the projected power of mankind and technology in a depicted future, it always accompanies a darker side of society grown as a result. The earliest example that comes to mind is Fritz Lang's Metropolis in 1927, but perhaps the most referenced imagery of a dystopian future in the past few decades is found in Ridley's Scott's techo-noir Blade Runner in 1982. Close your eyes for a minute. Do you have that imagery in your head right now? Not so pretty, is it? No rose-colored glasses when it comes to these visions of the future.

As Sci-Fi week comes to a close, The Paramount will screen two films with a similar icy view of humanity: Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Robert Altman's Quintet.

Released in 1985 after months of arm wrestling between Universal Studio bosses and Gilliam, Brazil has been hailed as a biting satire set in an Orwellian world. Filled with Terry's trademark cinematography and quirky inventiveness, it paints a view of society as bureaucratic hell. Imagine an agonizing unknown land furnished by a grim Office Depot with a hint of Chapin's Modern Times and you'll begin to get a faint idea.

An embodiment of one man's struggle in a time of paper and inefficiency, Brazil is referred to by Gilliam himself as an entry in his "imagination trilogy," along with similar themed films Time Bandits (1981) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). Here, the man in this house of mirrors is all of us, because who among us hasn't dreamt of soaring free from the red tape that unfortunately binds and restricts our lives? To spread our wings and just... fly.

I know what you're about to ask. If this film takes place in an unknown land... why is named Brazil? Well, it's a reference to the musical piece Aquarela do Brasil, a familiar tune that acts as a theme song throughout the story.

Kinda trippy. Kind beautiful. That's the cinema of Terry Gilliam. All of his films have that signature look, and he dabbled again with dystopian futures with 1995's 12 Monkeys. And to think, he was J.K. Rowling's first choice to direct the Harry Potter movies. How odd and awesome would that have been? Someone get Hermione's time-turner and go back to make that happen.

By 1979, Robert Altman had already established himself as one of America's great directors with his ensemble films MASH and Nashville. But by this time he had also established that he was capable of more eccentric fare, like Brewster McCloud (1970), Images (1972) and 3 Women (1977).

Quintet is a rather literal departure from the warmth found in his other films. Set in a post-apocalyptic ice age, it is a story that unfolds with the rapidity of a glacier. Paul Newman is a man who wanders the desolate frozen landscape and finds a group of hardened survivors who whimsically partake of a deadly game, a kind of ultra-high stakes game of Yahtzee. Boasting an impressive international cast including Bibi Andersson, Fernando Rey and Vittorio Gassman, Quintet remains one of Altman's oddities: definitely overlooked, but perhaps misunderstood as well.

If you come away confused from this one, don't fret. There have been many that have been flummoxed by Quintet. Heck, in one of his recent tweets, even Roger Ebert professes a perplexed attitude.

What one must bear in mind is that sometimes the riddle is not to be cracked. Films of this genre aren't so much foretelling our future, but are a cautionary tale (if not indictment) of our present.

What will your opinion be? Come check the films out and see for yourself. After all, if we're to believe the future as depicted in these movies, we better enjoy our own thoughts while we are still allowed to have them. In dystopian futures, things are often bleakest because the society dictates the individual and "IMHO" is a four-letter word. Let us learn our lessons now. The future's never set in stone, but we can do something before our present sets and becomes an immovable part of our past.

Showtimes for the films:

Sunday, Jul 10th
2:00 7:00

Sunday, Jul 10th

Final Notes about the screening

Double Features:
"When two movies are grouped together under the same thematic heading, one ticket is good for both features when viewed back-to-back on the same day." (cha-ching!)

"Hassle-free downtown parking available for $6 at the One American Center for all summer films! Since you’re also supporting the theatre when you buy parking, they're giving you a free small soda each time you park there for a film. Buy online with your film tix and print out your confirmation e-mail or buy directly from the garage attendant (cash only). Attendant will have your soda ticket as well."

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